On Thursday 22 June, the students of the Upper Hunter’s St James’ Primary School, Muswellbrook, wore their pyjamas to school in support of Principal Niamh Marzol, who once again represented the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in the St Vincent de Paul Society’s CEO Sleepout event. Students raised funds through a gold coin donation to wear their pyjamas and also enjoyed a special lunch of fried rice and spring rolls.
For four years, Niamh has joined over 50 business leaders from across the region in the CEO Sleepout and has raised almost $11,000 during this time. “I want the students to see they can actually make a difference,” Ms Marzol said.
Up the road at St Mary's Primary School, Scone, 28 brave students and three brave teachers also slept out to raise $1,161 for the St Vincent de Paul winter appeal. The following day the entire school donned beanies for the Beanies for Brain Cancer appeal and collected blankets and warm clothes for St Vincent de Paul.
One day later, 95 students from Years 1 through to 12 from St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton, came together to experience what it would be like to be homeless for a night. In support of the Vinnies Winter Appeal, students gathered to listen to a presentation by school parents, Kirrily and Aaron Donohue, who work closely with those who experience homelessness in Singleton.
Students in Years 5 to 12 were then invited to “sleep rough” for the night to experience conditions faced by those who experience homelessness on a daily basis. Students slept on the concrete in the quad with their sleeping bags and blankets allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of the homelessness, raise awareness of what it is like to experience homelessness and raise almost $2,000 in support of the local Vinnies homelessness services.
Yesterday, on 29 June, over 60 Year 11 and 12 students and eight staff members from St Paul’s High School, Booragul, also took to the floor in support of the 2.5 million people aged 15 years and over who have experienced homelessness at some time in their lives*. To participate in the sleepout, students were required to gain sponsorship of a minimum of $25; this is the amount it costs to provide someone in need with shelter for the night.
Year 11 student, Claudia Becus, raised money for the Vinnies event by seeking sponsorship from family members, by door knocking and through Facebook.
“As winter settles in, all the time I am hearing from people how it is too cold to go to school. However, we need to think about the people who are really suffering, those sleeping in the cold, as this is what this event does,” said Claudia.
St Paul’s Youth Vinnies coordinator and St Paul’s teacher, Fran Heard, said that the biennial event has been created to ask students to rise to the challenge and gain a deeper understanding of homelessness by being uncomfortable and cold for the night.
“We are in a safe environment but those on the street are not and are vulnerable to not only the elements but also to violence. It’s about sacrifice,” Mrs Heard said.
Photographs courtesy of the Muswellbrook Chronicle, Newcastle Herald, St Catherine’s College Singleton and St Mary's Primary School Scone.
*2014 Australian Bureau of Statistics